Category Archives: weaning

By contract II

I suppose I should mention this: I’m no longer a nursing mother.

If you’re new around here you might not be surprised by that – after all, for most mothers whose youngest is five years old, breastfeeding is something that happened way back in the mists of babyhood; toddlerhood at least. But here’s the thing: my babies were reluctant to stop. And I mean that most understatedly. They reacted to the idea of giving up the boob with screaming and terror and horror and gnashing and wailing of teeth, and frankly it was much easier for me to go along with that than to face their wrath.

I didn’t go into breastfeeding with the intent of carrying on until my babies could write their own thank-you notes. I certainly have no opinions about how long anyone else should keep it up, any more than I have opinions about what you should have for dinner or how often, if ever, you should shave your legs. Eat food you like; shave when you feel like it. Nurse your baby for as long as it suits you and your child.*

I had been telling Mabel that we would stop when she was five ever since she turned four and a half and we didn’t quite stop. We cut down from morning and evening to just morning at that point, and when I went on my Big Trip Away to BlogHer in July (for three days) she was just fine without. But our trip to Ireland was nicely timed to happen just before her birthday, and as I had hoped, the distraction of the different, of sharing a room with her brother and being in a new place was enough to break the habit quite easily. She only thought to nurse three mornings out of fourteen while we were there, and on the morning of her birthday was quite easily put off with a simple “No, you’re five now. You don’t need it any more.”

So we’re done. I’m not sad or sorry. I have no regrets about nursing for as long as I did, and I have no regrets about that part of my life being over. My babies and I had a mutually beneficial relationship for a long time, and though often the “mutually” felt more like “completely one-sided” in their favour, it was never enough for me to call a halt sooner than they were ready for. I’m not a martyr – far from it. I was always simply too lazy to make a stand against their will, because when it came down to it, the convenience outweighed the inconvenience.

So I can finally lay to rest the “Weaning” tag that I’ve used so often over the years here, as I considered, and attempted, and gave up on, and tried again with, and gradually approached the nirvana-like state of no longer breastfeeding. I’ve been wearing proper bras for a couple of years, actually, so I can’t even go out and indulge in some fabulous lingerie; and I doubt my alcohol consumption will see much change.

It’s a big milestone, but it’s been so long coming that I really don’t even notice the difference. Perhaps that’s as it should be. We’re looking ahead, not back.

* I’m talking here mostly about extended nursing. I do think you should start out by trying to breastfeed, if you’re medically able to. I think that’s a no-brainer. But if you don’t continue for very long, for whatever reason, I’ll assume that you did what you could and ended up making the best decision for you and your family. It’s not my business to have an opinion on that.

The momentous and the mundane

Oh, dinner, how you tease me with your needing to be made, every single damn night, unless I was organized and made lots the night before, which works well with winter dinners like chilli and lasagne but somehow rarely manages to cut it in the summer, when I have all these leaves and tomatoes and things.

I don’t know what we’re eating, don’t bug me. There’s hours yet to dinner time. Well, one hour, maybe. Dash has a baseball game to which his father will take him, and Mabel and I are on track for an early bedtime, seeing as how yesterday was one of those thankfully-not-common nights when I held her for several hours because she has a phlegmy cough (sorry, were you eating?) and was borderline feverish and I felt she needed to be propped up in bed but couldn’t engineer that unless she was actually on me. Which is not so conducive to me sleeping either. It was like old times with a snurfly newborn. Except she didn’t nurse. Which really is quite lovely and amazing, because it would have been a lot more tedious this time last year (or even a few months ago) when she’d have been latched on all night as well.

And you know, the funny thing is that she seems (seems, I say, not counting any chickens) to be dropping the morning nurse as well, the only one we have left, the one she was so adamant to keep. A few non-standard mornings have distracted her from remembering at the point when she normally would, and it’s possible – just possible – that we will have weaned at four-and-a-half after all. Which is nicely matching her brother’s age of weaning, and let me emphasize this may mean that I will soon be no longer lactating for the first time in seven years. Seven straight years. That’s a long time. For all I know, my boobs might schlurrpp themselves into tiny fried eggs when they figure out what’s going on. Or, more probably into the sort of things I could helpfully roll up before stuffing into a bra. Sigh.

This is not what I was going to say, but is it ever? Stream of consciousness, baby.

Oh, I know.

There are only thirteen and a half days left of school before summer. Hold me.

Four-year-old girl in stripey leggings
Gratuitous photo of Mabel, hiding around the corner the more safely to watch a scary part of The Princess Bride.

Four point five cake

Saturday was Mabel’s four-and-a-halfth birthday. I like to make a bit of a thing about half birthdays, because a year is a long time to wait, and also Cake, any excuse for; and because sometimes I can make it into enough of a milestone in their minds that they’ll do something, or start doing something, or stop doing something, just because now they’re whatever-and-a-half.

So Mabel is no longer having boo(b) in the evening. At all. This is great.
Also, she is going to start trying to wipe herself after a poo. All I’m asking is that she tries, that she’s willing to give it a go, which will be a lot better than the point-blank refusal I’ve had up to now. And she has been trying, since Saturday. So that’s great too.

On the other hand, she had a fit of the screaming collywobbles at drop-off this morning, and I very much hope that’s not indicative of how four point five is going to go. I know it’s a tough age and I’m prepared for some backsliding in behaviour and/or willingness to try new things, but I would really like to be able to bring her to school without the clawing and the screaming and the tearing at my heart, because it’s nice when that doesn’t happen.

Oh well. Onwards to five, which everyone agrees is The Golden Age, rivalled only by eight.

More importantly, cake.

Burnt butter brown sugar cupcakes with chocolate ganache icing

I made half a batch of Burnt Butter Brown Sugar cupcakes (Nigella, How to be a Domestic Goddess) topped with Dark Chocolate Icing (Darina Allen, Easy Entertaining), and they were, if I say it myself, rather gorgeous. I haven’t done the brown butter thing before even though Smitten Kitchen and others have been raving about it for a while. It was really easy and I’m pretty sure that’s what I have to thank for the fact that these buns are still moist and soft two days later.

(I know, why on earth do we still have any two days later? That will be remedied, don’t worry.)

Milestones, tangentially

I am solo-parenting right now because B is at a conference in Denver. The night before he left, bedtime was horrible and went on for hours, and I was a bit worried about the state of my sanity if trying to go it alone for five nights in a row, but the next morning I stocked up on dollar-store bribes and so far we’re doing well. When he comes home then we’ll have the problem of trying to continue the peaceful bedtimes without bribes, but I’m prepared to cross that bridge when I come to it. This is known as willful ignorance, or ostrich parenting. (I shall write a book and rake in the profits.)

In my bid to exhaust the children, leading to easier bedtimes, I had to take them swimming today. Whereupon Dash swam underwater (with goggles), which I’m pretty sure I don’t remember him doing before, and Mabel took her first ever strokes without wearing a floatie or keeping a toe on the bottom. At not quite four and a half, she beats her brother by a little over six months, her mother by more than three years, and her father by some enormous amount. I need to find my milestones list* and add this.

The reason bedtimes are harder again at the moment – I realise I haven’t told you this – is because I don’t nurse Mabel to sleep any more. Not ever. (I know, she’s only almost 4.5. Don’t think I hadn’t noticed.) Not even in dire circumstances like having nobody to spell me when telling her stories for hours on end. I don’t nurse her back to sleep in the middle of the night either, and she’s sleeping much better (sometimes) (andIdidn’tsaythatpleasedon’tsmiteme) and slept for ten hours straight last night. Alone, in her own bed. Other nights she wakes up twice and then again at 5.15, but she doesn’t get any booboo until 6am, when it’s waking-up boob rather than going back to sleep boob. (Okay, if she happens to nod off again and we all get some extra shut-eye until 7.45 I’m not going to quibble. But mostly, it’s waking up.)

Then we rode our bikes to the playground at Dash’s school – which is very close but was a novelty for two out of the three of us – and Mabel swung all the way along the monkey bars for the first time too. I think her arms will be aching tomorrow.

The weather this weekend was exactly perfect and the way it should be and I want to marry it and have its babies. If it could just stay this way until, maybe, at least July, that would be ideal, thanks.

Blossom, blossom, everywhere

*My milestones list. Don’t you have one? It’s like a baby book, except it’s just a page from a notebook that I started writing on a long time ago and somehow have managed not to lose. I had a baby book once, but it was too nice to write in, so I gave it away.

"You’re still WHAT?"

You* are not the only person in the world nursing a three-year-old. I am not the only person in the world nursing a four-year-old. If you think you are, or I am, that’s because we’re just not talking about it so much.

When Jamie Lynne Grumet and her latched-on standing-up son appeared on the cover of Time magazine last year, the idea that breastfeeding still happens with children who can walk and talk and maybe even write their names in wobbly backwards capital letters was a huge surprise to many, anathema to some, and just another normal day to a subsection of mothers who happen not to have weaned yet.

Time had no interest in breaking down barriers between mothers or normalizing extended breastfeeding: Time just wanted to sell copies of Time, so it made its cover as sensationalist and purposely divisive as it could. It worked – people were suddenly talking about Time magazine, and they weren’t even trapped in a dentist’s waiting room at the time.

But for most people nursing a preschooler, it’s just not something that comes up in conversation. It’s probably something that only happens at night, or first thing in the morning; it means you don’t have to get up and pour that bowl of cereal quite as early as you might otherwise. It means your son or daughter drops off to sleep in five minutes instead of twenty-five. It’s quite easy not to talk about it, and then you realise that you’d feel funny admitting it: if they mention to their teacher that they love you because you have the booboos with the milk in them, you might even be just a tiny bit embarassed. (No, this never happened to me. Not at all. Not three weeks ago, for instance.) If they try to kiss your booboos goodbye at nursery-school dropoff, you might even brush them off with a quick “Not here, stoppit.” You might hope people don’t know what your booboos are. You might be totally deluded.

This is the thing: Nursing an older toddler or a preschooler is not a conscious decision for most mothers. It’s rarely something we set out to do: it’s just something that hasn’t finished yet. While some babies wean themselves before they turn twelve months old, and perhaps most dwindle and leave off nursing during the second year, others just don’t want to stop, and their mothers may be in a position where they don’t mind that. It’s not a big deal until someone comes along with a magazine article to turn it into one. (If you have an older nursling and are feeling weird about it, read this wonderful piece about nursing in Mongolia, and feel better.)

So while I want to wean Mabel, and I’m looking forward to the day it happens, I’m willing to wait until she’s ready too. We have set a tentative date of her fifth birthday to be done, but we’ll see what happens. I don’t want to be nursing a six-year-old in two years’ time; I have no intention of nursing a six-year-old; but then again, I had no intention of nursing a three- or four-year-old either. When I started out on this crazy journey I said, “At least three months. Six would be good.”

Life makes you change your plans. That’s how it works. Work with it.

*Maybe not you. But maybe you.

Code

I had Mabel’s parent-teacher conference yesterday. I was pretty sure there wouldn’t be much of import to say, but thought I’d better go along anyway just to make sure they didn’t need to tell me she was a sociopath in training or anything. (They didn’t.)

Her teachers opened procedings by assuring me that on the mornings when I pry her off me and leave her wailing in the classroom, the yells have stopped before I’m down the corridor and I’m not to worry at all. Which was nice.

I countered by explaining that those are the mornings when she hasn’t had much sleep. I explained how bad a sleeper she is (though of course I’ve noted this on those days too when handing her over) and how she’s often wide awake for an hour or so in the night, and how I have to go to her and try to help her get back to sleep.

Which left the field open wide for them to tell me what I should do about that. Silly me for mentioning it. They advised not going. I chuckled. (Maybe it was more of a snort.) Or at least a Supernanny-style putting-back-to-bed with no cuddles, over and over, until it sticks, they said.

I nodded and smiled and didn’t say “Well, I’d prefer to go to my child when she wakes and calls for me, because she might actually need me. She might be sick, or have had a nightmare, and I don’t want her to think that she’s all alone and banned from my company just because it’s dark outside.” I only thought of that afterwards.

“No cuddles,” repeated her teacher. Of course, I hadn’t mentioned the booboos component of the putting back to sleep. No need to confuse matters. Oh, fine, okay, so I’m a little embarrassed and don’t want to tell her teachers we’re still nursing at night. If they think I’m a soft touch to be cuddling with her every night, can you imagine what they’d say when I mentioned that she still partakes of the nectar too? Besides, it’s none of their business. But I was conscious of being a bad extended-lactivist.

I nodded and smiled some more, and we talked about Mabel’s “academic” progress (she can cut with scissors!) and social progress (needs encouragement to clean up; needs to work on peaceful conflict resolution, yada yada, four-year-old-cakes), and I took my leave.

It was only later on last night that I realised that Ms S’s references to “cuddles” were code for booboo. Because of course, she’s talked to Mabel about this, and Mabel has no self-censoring device, and Ms S. is no idiot, and hadn’t she just told me that you can have a good, sensible conversation with Mabel? (Not like me, then.)

She should have winked and cocked her head a lot more obviously if she wanted me to understand that she meant “No more booboo.” I’m sleep deprived, so I’m a bit slow on the uptake.

A qualified first

Mabel fell asleep last night without nursing.

I have to qualify that statement a whole lot, but it’s still a first.

  • She has fallen asleep at bedtime without nursing before, for her father a few times, and for the babysitter once – though not for a long time.
  • She falls asleep without nursing in the car, in the stroller, and even in the middle of the night. It’s just falling asleep at bedtime that’s been the sticking point for, well, ever.
  • She did nurse yesterday evening, but (because she’d had a nap) was then wide awake again (demanding waffle, water, music, etc) before finally falling asleep.

But last night, after wailing and crying and demanding and protesting that she couldn’t, she finally lay down and let me start Cinderella, and in very little time, before Cinders had even got to the ball, I’d say, Mabel had yawned twice and her breathing was regular and I was pretty sure she was out. I got as far as losing the slipper before I stopped and gingerly sat up and crept away, but it was a done deal.

Given all those reservations, I’m sort of surprised by this – but all evening I have to admit that I had an odd sense of impending freedom.

Would you take fashion advice from this girl?

Squishy

She sits up in bed at some ungodly hour and musters all her self-control to stop crying.

“Mummy,” she hiccups, “let me explain why I have to have booboo to get back to sleep.”

“Okay.” I’m a bit delirious with tiredness because my body is no longer inured to waking every two hours. I know I should stick to my guns and refuse to nurse her, but I also know that I owe her at least a listen to her point of view, and that I’ll probably give in.

“Because…” she casts about a bit for something that will convince me of the strength of her feelings; “…because it’s milky and … squishy… and I neeeeed it.”

Really, how could I refuse such an eloquent plea? Also, see above, re tired.

Night-weaning is a long process, it seems. We go back and forth. Blanket rules just don’t work here. I can make an edict, but for the sake of all our sanity, sometimes I give in. Mostly, I get into bed with her when she wakes, and she asks for booboo, and I say “First, I’m going to tell you Cinderella,” and she’s asleep before I’ve got to Act II (The Prince Decides to Throw a Ball).

But sometimes she’s wide awake, open-eyed and waiting for me to hurry up and get to the end so she can have what she’s patiently waiting for. Meanwhile I’m wandering off at every sentence and trying not to just fall asleep mid-word. She’ll say “Mummy, have you finished yet?” and I’ll say “All right, here, then; just go to sleep,” and hike up my pyjama top.

We’ve said – I’ve said, and she has sort of acquiesced, so far – that once she’s four there’ll be no more booboo at bedtime, only first thing in the morning. I don’t know how that’s going to go on Sunday. There might be more back-and-forthing, it might not be as clear-cut as that. But we’ll start trying, and eventually, we will see progress.

Backsliding

There has been some backsliding on the night-weaning issue.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, becuase it was going so well. She hadn’t had a boob in the middle of the night for so long that I was sure she’d forgotten it was even a possibility. But hey, I was wrong. How ’bout that?

When we were in Chicago, Dash was just getting over his almost-croup, and I was convinced Mabel was about to come down with it. One night she seemed warm, to the kiss test, and I suspected she was running a low-grade fever. She definitely had a cold. She woke up in the night, and I decided to hell with my principles (such as they were, the no-boob principle is always fighting against the why-shouldn’t-I principle) and gave her the boob. It sent her back to sleep quickly, it gave her antibodies, it kept her hydrated, it was just the ticket. In the morning her fever was gone and she only coughed a few times.

So I said, “It’s only because we’re away, and you’re sick.” “Once we go home, there will be no booboo at night, you know?” I said. “Only in Chicago,” I said.

Yeah, right. She’d broken the streak, and she knew it. Also, she’s still sick with a very runny nose and a crackly cough that doesn’t worry me because it sounds productive, as the pharmacist would say. I have not had a lot of luck denying the midnight boob since we’ve been back. And I can’t tell whether it’s because she’s found my weakness (you know, liking sleep) or because she really does need it because she’s sick. But I’m teetering on the edge of sick myself, with a runny nose and an incipient sore throat that never gets quite bad enough to bother about, and telling the long version of Cinderella at 3am is really not something that appeals to me when I know there’s another option.

I do try, though. Last night. Ugh. Last night she woke at some horrible hour and I recounted all of Cinderella (slightly abridged, with breaks whenever I dropped out of consciousness). Then she wailed at me for 20 minutes until I gave her one boob. Repeat for other side, even though she’d promised she’d go to sleep after just the one. (She’s like an alcoholic. I wonder has she an addictive personality, perhaps.) Then the other side, or a Mabel story, or I don’t remember what. Finally, two hours later, she said she was hungry.

One waffle and one more bloody Mabel story later, she was asleep. For, I dunno, an hour, until it was morning.

I’m a bit tired today. I’ll night-wean her again when I have the energy. Don’t hassle me, man.

Don’t even read this out loud in your head

I’m really tempting all kinds of fate even just writing this down, so I’ll have to say it in code, but Abelmay is eepingslay etterbay. I’m sorry if your pig Latin isn’t up to snuff, but that’s as far as I’m prepared to go. I said it out loud for real – in a whisper – to a friend the other day, and that very night the child woke up four times.

To recap, briefly, for anyone who’s new: Mabel will be four in November, and she has been sleeping like a four-month-old for her entire life. By which I mean that she would wake every two or three hours to be nursed back to sleep. So if she went to bed at 8 she’d wake at 10, 12, 2 or 3, and 5 or so, and finally get up around 7. If she skipped her nap and went to bed at 7, she’d wake at 9, and so on. Every now and then, just so I didn’t think I could even do something between 8 and 10, she’d wake up after just one hour. So, rather than lose my sanity completely, I was mostly sleeping in Mabel’s bed from 2am onwards every night.

It was okay, but it was getting old. She was getting old, and something had to change. Finally, this February, I got to the point where I was ready to try again, and so for the first waking we sent in Daddy. She didn’t like it much the first time, (think heaving, gulping, sobs) and I stepped in, but after a few nights she started to accept him and fall asleep with just a story.

In March I started trying to do that with her pre-3am wakings as well. She was still waking up, but often would go back to sleep with just a story from either me or her father. By 3am I would be too exhausted to hold out any longer, and she’d get what she wanted.

Last month, after babysittergate, I decided it was time to stand firm. She’d shown me she was able to put herself back to sleep, so I could finally deny her without guilt. The first night, she was awake for three hours in the middle of the night, trying to figure out how to do it. But in the next few nights things improved. Nowadays, she often wakes once, some time between 11 and 1, and that’s it until daylight. Daylight is when I have decreed she can have boobie, but not before.

So we finally really are nursing just twice in 24 hours: once at bedtime and once in the morning. And in between, Mabel mostly sleeps, in her own bed, and I sleep in mine. It’s taken a long time to get here – longer than I’d ever have let you tell me I’d wait, really – but it’s a good place to be.

Now I have to go and sacrifice some rubber chickens to the pig-Latin gods so that Fate doesn’t read what I just said.